Friday, November 2, 2012

as easy as rocket science

ander's been asking to launch his own model rockets.  he knows exactly what to do, because he's been watching his favorite youtube videos on the topic, particularly this one.

i put him off for a while because i've never launched model rockets and did not feel comfortable trying to figure them out on my own.  i reassured ander that daddy would be happy to take him to do that on his next visit home.  he reluctantly agreed to wait, but he insisted that each of us in the family get a rocket and that we all do it together.  he's very persuasive, that young son of ours.

this was so much easier than i anticipated! having a wide selection of estes rocket kits at our local michael's craft & hobby store made it easy for everyone to choose the style they wanted.  the directions were clear and simple and setup was relatively short because we purchased ready-to-fly rockets (except for ander's, though.  he was so excited to pick a style that appealed visually to him and clutched the box containing "sky lofter" to his chest with a vise grip, so we didn't pay the same attention to his rocket as we did to the others.  when we got to the field and opened the package, we were surprised and a bit dismayed to see that it required a couple of assembly materials and time we did not anticipate.  fortunately, ander was just as happy with the one i picked instead, "riptide").

my one-time-experience suggestions to other newbie model rocket enthusiasts (and especially for their adult companions):

- save up some money.  these things are not cheap.  there's the cost of the rocket itself, the launch controller, launch pad, and the single use engines, igniters, and wadding (which seem to come in multi-packs).  and you are more likely than not to lose a rocket at some point, so you'll need to get another one.  and maybe another one after that.  if you purchase at a craft store, check for coupons.

- do your research before heading out to the store and then to the field.  what's the goal for your first experience?   if you are in a hurry to grab and go, select a ready-to-fly model.  it will require the least assembly.  make sure you have, or plan to purchase, all the accompanying equipment.

- read the rocket package carefully.  it will tell you exactly what kind of engines you need (one size does not fit all here) and the battery requirements for the launch controller.

- bring screwdrivers.  a small phillips was necessary to open and close the launch controller's battery compartment.

- be willing to, and actually do, read the directions.  this is science, after all.  we read through recipes before baking or other kitchen chemistry, we read through procedures before conducting laboratory experiments.  model rockets use explosives, so be mindful of recommended safety precautions.  yes, it is fun and instructive to wing it; it can be expensive and dangerous if approached haphazardly or carelessly.

- make connections.  literally.  the parachute must be attached to the shock cord, otherwise it won't function properly as a recovery system.  the igniter must be in contact with the motor or it won't transfer the electrical charge.  the clips need to be fastened securely enough that they stay on when you walk back to the launch controller.  the safety key must be pushed in before pressing the button.  everything is connected; everything has a purpose.  if something doesn't work the way you expected, look to where connections broke down.

- pay attention to location and weather conditions.  you want a large enough space (think of a soccer field) and a relatively calm day to make recovery easy.  a rocket that apogees at 1000 feet (or even much lower, like 200 feet) can catch a breeze on the way down, carrying it to undesirable places, like in the top of a tall tree in someone's yard, where recovery is impractical (or impossible).  check the wind when you set up the launch site AND just before you launch.  the wind direction and strength can (and very well might) change.

- keep an open mind.  the trial-and-error aspect of model rocketry is just one part of the science and part of the fun.  each experience will add to your knowledge base and expertise.  allowing frustration or disappointment to supercede your feelings of enthusiasm only diminishes your enjoyment and interferes with your capacity to consider what to try next.

- ask someone to join you.  you may find that you are more excited about some aspects of model rocketry, like assembling the rocket and setting it on the launch pad.  maybe the idea of actually pressing the button to launch is a little intimidating on your first (few) times out.  maybe you'd prefer to stand farther away and watch/listen to the launch from a distance and try to guess where the parachute will carry the rocket.  having an understanding, patient, caring person with you can help make the experience a really good one.

happy boy.  mission accomplished.

this very morning ander found a new video tutorial on paper air rockets.  i guess i know what we'll be doing next!

1 comment:

  1. This was SO MUCH FUN. I hadn't launched rockets since I was just older than Diana is now, but it was easy to get going again!